In what one attendee called an “unprecedented” press conference, three former US Attorneys and one expert in governmental ethics held a press conference today to educate the public about the rampant criminality of Buddy Cianci’s two previous turns as Mayor of Providence, with an eye towards preventing a third. Republicans Robert Corrente and Lincoln Almond (who also served as governor of Rhode Island) alongside Democrat and current United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, were united in their opinion that a third Cianci administration is, in the words of Corrente, an “alarming prospect.”
Corrente started the press conference by noting that the information being presented was for the undecided voters who will determine the mayoral race in Providence, not for those who have already decided. Cianci, says Corrente, has “minimized and even joked about the crimes he committed in office,” and these crimes include a “violent beating involving a fireplace log and an ashtray.” The head of the Providence City Council during Cianci’s first term told Corrente that, “Cianci is killing the city” through threats, bribery and extortion.
During his second administration, said Corrente, Cianci ran the Providence City Hall as an organized criminal enterprise for nearly a decade before being convicted on RICO charges, yet the former mayor characterized his conviction as “some guy down the hall who took a g-note.” Corrente called Cianci’s statement an “outrageous mischaracterization.”
Lincoln Almond, who joined the press conference by telephone, added, “You don’t get five years for a technical violation.”
Certainly Cianci has served his time for his crimes, but rehabilitation means taking responsibility for and owning up to your misdeeds. Cianci has shown no remorse, said Corrente, and there is every reason to believe that a third term will be exactly like the first two.
Senator Whitehouse concurred, adding that, “one should not believe that this type of criminal activity is harmless to taxpayers.” When the cost of doing business in Providence includes bribery and extortion, business stays away, says Whitehouse, noting that there was a “surge of [business] activity” after Cianci’s tenure as mayor, when business at City Hall could be conducted honestly.
Almond added, “The fiscal problems facing Providence [today] were created during the Cianci administration.”
Phil West, who formerly headed up Common Cause, says that, “the only way [Cianci] can run a city is pay-to-play.” Voters have to ask themselves, “Has Buddy Cianci’s character changed?”
“I find that hard to believe,” said West.
When asked why, despite his criminal record, Cianci is leading in the polls, the three US Attorneys seemed at a loss. Corrente suggested that there may be many who don’t remember the extent of Cianci’s crimes or who moved into the city after the fact. Whitehouse suggested that the public is confusing Cianci’s “entertainment value” for responsible leadership. It was also suggested that many have publicly supported Cianci do so because they are afraid of political retribution should he win.
I think Corrente got closer to the truth when he admitted that many, like the firefighter, police, teacher and taxicab unions, are simply voting in their own economic interest by supporting Cianci. I would add that in my talks with likely voters, many feel that the major party candidates, the Republican Harrop and the Democrat Elorza, do not have the interests of working people and the working poor at heart. The concerns of working people are not being addressed by the major party candidates, forcing voters to consider casting their ballots for a criminal who might help them over “honest” politicians who have flatly declared themselves opposed to their interests.
More and more Rhode Islanders are falling into poverty, and our major candidates for office offer little, save for the promise of making Rhode Island more business friendly in the hope of attracting more low paying jobs at poverty wages. In this light a voter’s ballot is not cast for Cianci, but against a system that doesn’t work for them.
As sympathetic as I am to this logic, voting for Cianci is a mistake. Cianci’s life of criminality and abuse of power is a stain on Providence, and I dare anyone to read Emma Sloan’s piece, “Why one rape victim won’t support Cianci” and still publicly support the man. At a certain point, it’s not about the character of the candidate, but the character of the voter.